SEOUL — South Korea’s defense minister says the planned transfer of wartime control of allied troops to Seoul in 2015 is “inappropriate” in light of North Korean provocations earlier this year.
“North Korea is different from the past. Considering the third nuclear test and the situations from March to May, the December 2015 deadline is not appropriate,” Kim Kwan-jin told lawmakers during a defense committee meeting Tuesday. Videos of his remarks were posted on the National Assembly’s website.
North Korea issued a series of threats after the February nuclear test, which monitors indicated was its most powerful so far. Bolstered by a successful test of a three-stage rocket last December, it claimed it could hit U.S. targets, though experts say they think Pyongyang has not yet crafted a bomb small enough to fit in a warhead.
Kim said Pyongyang’s ongoing threats over joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises contributed to Seoul’s decision, backed by President Park Geun-hye, to seek a delay.
If war broke out on the peninsula today, the commander of U.S. forces would lead both U.S. and South Korean forces. After the OPCON transfer, the top South Korean general would assume that responsibility.
The transfer was initially supposed to take place in 2007 but was postponed until 2012. After the North’s sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010, the date was pushed forward again to 2015 amid questions about whether the South’s military was ready for the job.
U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Curtis “Mike” Scaparrotti, who assumed command last week, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in July that the OPCON transfer is “a good plan...and I think we should move forward with it.” He added that Seoul had to meet a variety of benchmarks before the transfer takes place.
A Pentagon-commissioned study last year suggested that the U.S. military should take a number of steps to cover for perceived shortcomings in the South’s ability to defend itself, including delaying the 2015 transfer date until South Korea’s military is better prepared for the task.
Stars and Stripes’ Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this story.